The Department of Human Services’ (DHS) website leads some 22 other federal agency sites in the race to comply with mandatory web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.0) by the end of the year.
iTnews conducted a survey of websites using two independent WCAG 2.0 checkers - the Ontario Government sponsored achecker.ca and Total Validator v.7.4.0. The two results for each agency were averaged, sorted and summarised (see table below).
The top Government sites based on the least number of errors averaged on their home pages were:
Typical errors included anchors without texts, document languages' not being identified, invalid language codes, no alternate texts to images and no text added to a label elements.
DHS communication general manager Hank Jongen said the department developed its site "with strict web standards and best practice in mind."
“We understand the importance of meeting our accessibility requirements and actively promote the value of meeting our WCAG 2.0 commitments," he said.
"We have also ensured that these requirements become part of our standard developer and web authoring practice — rather than treated as a once-off event."
Australian Governments at all levels endorsed WCAG 2.0 and require their websites (federal, state and territory) to meet new guidelines at the minimum compliance level of Single A by the end of the year.
They are required to meet medium compliance level AA by the end of 2014.
Australian Government agencies generally do a good job with provision of accessible web sites and are far in advance of the private sector, Australian National University lecturer Tom Worthington said.
“Rather than treat this as an extra burden, organisations should use the introduction of the Version 2 accessibility guidelines to review how they provide information to all web users," he said.
"Accessibility guidelines can provide better access for mobile users with tablets and smart phones, without the added expense and complexity of producing apps."
Web management environments varied among the agencies surveyed by iTnews.
Most Government sites relied on a version of ASP.net, SharePoint, Domino or open source PHP/SQL platforms such as Drupal and Squiz.
DHS opted for Documentum as its back-end web content management system, along with specialised web editors such as Adobe's Dreamweaver.
Agencies with Microsoft SharePoint-based sites seem to do it tougher in the WCAG 2.0 checks, with Innovation, Resources, Energy & Tourism (RET) and the Attorney-General’s Department (AG) tending to have more accessibility errors than other sites.
However, SharePoint was technically capable of supporting WCAG compliance activities.
In late July 2010, Microsoft published WCAG 2.0 “A” and “AA” conformance statements for SharePoint Foundation 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, Office 2010, FAST, Office Web Apps, Project Server 2010 & Search Server 2010.
“These statements re-affirm our commitment to making our software accessible for those who need it. WCAG 2.0 or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 covers a wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible,” a Microsoft Australia spokesman said.
More recently, the association for the visually handicapped, Vision Australia, confirmed that SharePoint 2010 offers “a solid foundation” to achieve accessibility, though it may require some customisation and “governance” for the best results. (pdf)
TABLE: SUMMARY OF WEB ACCESSIBILITY OF HOME PAGES
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